APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Sept. 30) - After controversy about the Rubella vaccine and allegations that the government is not doing enough to help the children and people, the Health Minister has finally emerged from his shell.

On SBC TV Saturday night, he accused the Samoa Observer of quoting him incorrectly. This is when we reported he said to go and talk with the medical people as he deals only with policy and political issues.

This newspaper did go to the minister for comment. And he did seem uncertain about what exactly was going on. He did say he deals with the policy and political issues. And, after calling someone at the hospital for information, he did tell us to go and talk with them as they were the people handling "the medical side of things".

Now the Health Department is also saying that the MMR (Mumps, Measles, Rubella) vaccine has possible side effects.

After lying low, and responding little to the concerns of the people, the department has decided to question the confidence the private MedCen Hospital has established amongst worried parents.

The Health Department is now also saying that pregnant women and women who are looking to get pregnant shouldn't get the MMR vaccination at all.

It is also raising questions about the vaccination process.

The question is: Why didn't the government explain all this in the first place?

Why has it taken the anger over the deaths of three children before this information about the Rubella outbreak and concerns about the vaccinations is publicized?

Journalists of this newspaper will tell you how hard it has been to get information from the government-run public health system despite all their efforts to do so.

There are, we know, people in the government health system who wanted to get information out quicker. They want the public to be informed because they know this is the right thing to do. But they were unable to comment because of the rules and regulations they are bound by.

Meanwhile, those who were authorized to comment seemed reluctant to do so and sometimes strangely hard to get.

Why didn't the Health Department calm the people when they were confused and troubled about the spread of Rubella?

Why are they speaking out about vaccinations side effects now when they know that hundreds of children and women have already gotten MMR vaccinations from the private hospital?

Why now that a Good Samaritan (God bless his soul) has come forward to donate money for vaccinations, via the private hospital, has the government health service become so concerned?

The government-run health service and its minister and public servants are right when they say the scientific way is the best way to go about these things.

But they are wrong when they use this as an excuse for the current situation.

They are wrong when they do not make full information available readily and prominently for a worried people through the news media.

They are wrong when they evade legitimate queries from the news media about matters of public concern.

They are wrong when they do not respond to genuine public concerns about what is obviously a growing problem.

They are wrong when they start pointing fingers at the people who have tried their best to answer this mounting public concern.

The best thing they could now do is to learn from this experience.

They should start by being more open and transparent about public health issues. And by responding immediately to public concerns.

And the best thing the Minister could do is to immediately start asking some questions himself instead of criticizing those who have been asking questions.

He could start today by finding out just how effective and available immunization programs run by the government health service really are.

October 1, 2003

Samoa Observer:


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